Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gillette Fusion, bad advertising and the blogosphere.

This entry is a bit of a winding path, but bear with me on it.

The story is about my relationship with Gillette. The company recently launched the Fusion, their latest advance in the quest for the perfect shave. Whenever I think I don't care for my job, I consider the poor research people squired away at the razor giant headquarters, staring at the tiny piece of plastic and sharp metal that is a blade cartridge. One blade to two was obvious, but now it's getting ridiculous. Five on the Fusion, along with an additional blade for those tricky areas around the nose and so forth. Frankly, I am amazed by the tenacity of Gillette and their relentless quest to improve. After the Mach III, I thought, "This, for sure, is the end. There can be no further advances for shaving." But the razor-obsessed don't listen to doubters like me. Instead, they toil away in an unrelenting quest to eradicate nicks and cuts.

What always annoyed me, however, is that the product developers had to see their latest work depicted in some of the most abysmal advertising of our time. Even worse, after spending the better part of my adult life crafting brand imagery, it ticks me off that I continue to be a sucker for the latest Gillette razor in spite of the remarkably bad campaigns.

There were the Mach III campaigns, full of rockets blasting about and naked men destined to have the most incredible shave of their lives. Curiously, the men also seemed devoid of genitalia. Why someone believed that an emasculated nude male was going convince other men to buy a razor always escaped me.

Of course, prior to that effort, there was the marginally better but still frightfully dated, "The Best a Man Can Get." Women seemed to like it, mainly because they fantasized about snuggling next to the baby soft, freshly-shaven faces of the men in the commercials, who all seemed to arrive on the set directly from the pages of GQ magazine. For regular guys, it just felt like Gillette was imposing impossibly high standards. So I have to be incredibly good looking and dress exceedingly well, all while being a devoted and thoughtful husband, father, son, son-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, uncle and co-worker? Ah, for chrissakes. Who do these people think I am?

And yet, over the years, I've purchased the Gillette Atra, upgraded to the Gillette Sensor and went directly to the nearest Walgreen's for the Gillette Mach III. I think I may have missed one between the Mach III and the Fusion, but that's only because I sensed there was something very exciting arriving very shortly.

Naturally, the advertising for the Fusion is as dreadful as the Gillette track record. Seems to be shirtless men and fire and welding arcs and such. At least that's what I can remember. Watching it during the Olympics, I thought they were going for some kind of torch tie-in. Hard to be sure, really.

Anyway, I was undeterred. The Fusion, I thought, was the latest advance in shaving excellence and I must incorporate it into my morning regimen. Five blades! Plus a bonus blade! All floating on those tiny springs! It was another victory for the rigors of product development over the shallow efforts of advertising.

Then, via Gaping Void, I learned of something called Shave Blog. Apparently, the guy who writes Shave Blog had been on The Today Show recently, discussing his desire for the return of real shaving — badger hair bristle brushes, English shaving soap — to its rightful place among the manly arts. I was intrigued.

I found out the guy uses a vintage razor from the 1940s. I appreciated his thoughts on it versus the Fusion — his blade was machined from solid steel while the Fusion was pretty much flimsy plastic except for the blades themselves. Side by side, his vintage blade really did make the Fusion look like the Trans Am of razors. Hmm.

The long treatises on shaving on Shave Blog made me ponder the act of removing stubble in a way that millions of dollars in Gillette advertising never had. There was depth to the story. There were generous helpings of both emotion — be a man, dammit! — and logic.

So, quite suddenly, I've put my trip to Walgreen's on hold. If I can find the time, I may investigate the world of vintage razors. Can they, as Shave Blog claims, really grant me a closer and decidedly more comfortable shave?

For Gillette and P&G, it means the millions they've invested in crap advertising and great R&D has been wasted. The deeper connection created by a blog may have trumped it all.

Shudder, if you're a brand manager. Wince, if you're an old-fashioned advertising person. Then make friends, very quickly, with the new transparency and exchange of information.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New campaigns promoting print advertising certain to prove that print advertising is less effective than ever before.

I love advertising, but I completely agree with Jeff Jarvis from Buzz Machine on this one. There is no ad campaign clever enough to overcome the forces currently working against print media.

Now it seems newspapers and magazines have fallen into the same trap as so many others. Rather than tackle their challenges with new thinking and ideas, they're going to tell people that they really don't need any.

Move along, people. Nothing to see here. Newspaper and magazine advertising working very well. Keep sending us your checks and everything will be fine.

Just try to make the argument that newspapers and magazines have not lost any of their power to a friend over lunch. It's pretty damn hard. Then try to make the same argument in an ad. Impossible.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Curling and the long tail.

In case you've missed it, curling has become the talk of this winter's Olympic Games. Since it's my favorite sport, I'm understandably thrilled about it.

I also think something interesting is happening here from a marketing perspective. None of the efforts to create buzz for the sport were directed by a single entity — it's been the many tentacles of the game's organizations, players and media pros. It hasn't been dropped down from above. Instead, it's been more like a steady, determined ooze.

People are watching the sport and finding it interesting. Indeed, I think the fact that curlers are real, normal human beings — no Shaquille O'Neal giants, no Bode Miller attitude — is adding to its appeal.

If the sport is finally gaining a bit of traction — God, I hope so — it's proof that there are no single magic bullets when you're trying to capture attention. Keep slugging away on as many levels as possible.

Of course, I do like to think that this incredible sports podcast might have helped as well.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Is there a place for your brand on iTunes?

While I usually take the findings of the Center for Media Research with a grain of salt — the vaguely arrogant moniker and the logo that hints at the Parthenon set off alarm bells for me — I will, like most people, cite one of their studies when it matches with my thinking. Humans are funny that way, aren't we? We're usually enamored of anything that seems to validate our own genius.

Anyway, the CMR reports that iTunes usage increased by 241% in December 2004 versus December 2005. To me, iTunes is in a better position than anyone to become the media hub of choice. Smart marketers will be making efforts to carve out their place in it. Traction won't come easy here, especially as more and more content is added, and a long-term commitment is required.

(Of course, Jon Gibs from Neilsen limits his comments to the music component of iTunes. If he thinks that's all that's going on, he needs to get out more. Or maybe he needs to get out less, skip a few of those media luncheons and spend more time online. Whatever the case, he needs to explore the world of vcasts, podcasts and network TV shows on iTunes.)

Unfortunately, much of this brief article is devoted to the iTunes audience demographic. The titans at the — insert heavy-handed theme music here — CENTER FOR MEDIA RESEARCH seem to imply that a presence here is most important for marketers who have products or services that match the brand preferences of iTunes consumers. And, according to this study, iTunes matches up with Volkswagen-driving, BBC America-watching, Wired-reading, hard cider-drinking types.

This is where smart media planners separate themselves from the plodders. The bright folks will realize the current user profile simply reflects early-adopters — although that hard cider thing sort of throws me — and that a good chunk of the rest of the population will soon follow.

To me, the smart media money goes where people are headed instead of where they currently sit. I usually resist hoary sports analogies, but I do think there's one that's appropriate here.

The greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, was a marvel not because of especially dominant skills, but due to his uncanny ability to figure out where the puck was going before anyone else did. In this constantly evolving media world, smart agencies and brand managers need to think the same way about their audience. If you always aim at their current location, you'll miss an opportunity to connect when they find an outlet that's fresh and new.